How Did Teamster Toughs Get Away With It?

Despite testimony from multiple witnesses that Daniel Redmond (left), Robert Cafarelli (center), and their cohorts had threatened, strong-armed and intimidated the cast and crew of a reality show, the Teamster toughs had the legal deck stacked in their favor. Image: Nate Raymond/Reuters

At a federal trial concluding yesterday, Teamster toughs John Fidler, Michael Ross, Robert Cafarelli, and Daniel Redmond were accused of threatening and assaulting the cast and crew of the Emmy Award-winning TV reality show Top Chef three years ago during a shoot in Milton, Mass., a southern suburb of Boston.

During the trial, the union bullies’ lawyers sporadically suggested the charges against them were “exaggerated.” But they never really denied that extortion as Americans commonly understand the term had occurred.

Instead, to avoid guilty verdicts the Teamster defendants in U.S. v. Fidler invoked through their lawyers, again and again, the controversial precedent set by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority nearly 45 years ago in U.S. Enmons.

Like many other reality shows, Top Chef maintains a permanent crew that travels to shooting locations across the country with the cast and furnishes an array of services, including transportation. Consequently, the union-free production does not need to hire temporary drivers anywhere, including the Boston metropolitan area.

But the hierarchy of Teamsters Local 25 in Beantown insisted that several forced dues-paying union drivers be hired all the same.

In August 2014, Top Chef had originally planned to film an episode at the Omni Parker House Hotel and the Menton restaurant in Boston itself. However, these two venues told Top Chef it was not longer welcome after receiving calls in advance of the scheduled filming from Ken Brissette, an appointee of union-label Boston Mayor Martin Walsh, “informing” them they would be harassed by a Teamster mob if they didn’t back out.

Consequently, the shoot was moved to Milton’s Steel and Rye restaurant. There, as Assistant U.S. Attorney Laura Kaplan told jurors August 1, the entire cast and crew as well as restaurant patrons faced a “gauntlet” of Teamster verbal and physical attacks. Union goons threatened to assault and even kill cast and crew members as a means of “persuading” the show’s producers to change their minds and sign a union contract.

Union lawyers responded that threats, harassment, vandalism and physical coercion perpetrated to advance such an objective are all, in the wake of Enmons, permissible under federal law. As Kenneth Barron, the defense attorney for Michael Ross, bluntly told the jury: “The union doesn’t have to take no for an answer.” (See the link below to read more about how, in Barron’s words, Enmons makes extortion prosecutions of Big Labor bosses and their militant followers almost impossible.)

By the time both sides had wrapped up their cases at the end of last week, union lawyers had apparently convinced all, or nearly all, members of the jury that, in order to convict the defendants, they would have to find extortionate threats had been made to procure Teamster-controlled jobs that didn’t even exist. “All” their clients were trying to do, union lawyers insisted, was take jobs away from union-free workers and thus make them available for forced union dues-paying Teamsters. That seemed plausible enough to the jury.

And yesterday, it unanimously acquitted all four defendants on all charges.

The only silver lining of the Fidler verdict for Americans who believe in equal justice under the law is that it will undoubtedly help focus public attention on the need for Congress to adopt legislation overturning the misbegotten Enmons decision, which exempts Big Labor bosses and toughs from federal prosecution for extortionate threats and violence whenever they are perpetrated to advance “legitimate union objectives.” Thanks in part to the efforts of National Right to Work Committee staffers, such pro-law and order legislation, known as the Freedom from Union Violence Act, is expected to be introduced on Capitol Hill shortly after Labor Day.

‘Top Chef’ federal trial: ‘The union doesn’t have to take no for an answer